A FEW WORDS ON BROTHER TO DRAGONS
I grew up in the American South, and all my adult life I’ve lived in a brick house. Brick hides our secrets in the South, but I’ll let you in on a few of them here. The raving woman on Toulouse may give some shock value to the poem, but there is something much darker here than any sexual encounter (besides, it was the French Quarter). This is the dark center of Chasing the Dragon.
I am proud to have graduated from Mr. Jefferson’s University in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I proudly stole the title for the poem from Robert Penn Warren’s book-length poem about Jefferson and Lewis and Clark. Robert Penn Warren was associated with the Agrarians, Southern poets, with whom I should probably feel more affinity than I do.
But I was also raised by UDC great aunts who taught me to revere the Lost Cause and the Stars and Bars, a flag that has now been totally degraded into a racist symbol by men who drive pick-up trucks with gun racks and harbor really dark fantasies about race war.
Instead of the Agrarians, at UVA, I discovered T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden with some W.B. Yeats on the side (what’s with all the initials? Should my next book be by J.R. Kinzey?). Elites, cosmopolitans, the sworn enemies of the guys in the pick-up trucks. Auden taught me that I was not an Agrarian, but an Arcadian, doomed to try to think my way back to the Garden of Eden in some noble but lost cause.
But, now that the old Lost Cause is finally lost and gone, what does it mean to live in the South?
If you cut through all the soap opera crap of Gone with the Wind, there’s one compelling voice to me, and it’s not Scarlett or Brett, certainly not the milk-toast Ashely (although I do have a soft spot for Melanie). No, it’s the wise, although somewhat misguided, voice of Scarlett’s father:
“The love of the land, Katie Scarlett. There’s no getting away from it if you’re Irish.”
Indeed, there’s no getting away from it if you’re Irish, Southern, or merely human. If this poem is the dark center of the book, there’s a brighter center coming: everyday encounters with the land and water, ospreys and eagles, herons and egrets.
And the occasional magic moment with dolphins in the creek.
The love of the land: there’s no getting away from it.